on the 16th of march 2011, 5 days after the powerful earthquake & subsequent tsunami in the north-east area of japan, and in the midst of the nuclear reactor problem, we left for hong kong as previously planned.
the purpose of the visit was to spend some time with my husband’s business partners, who are also very good friends of ours, and their 3 daughters. we had not yet met their youngest daughter since she was born in august last year, and we also promised their oldest daughter that we would come and watch her performance in a ballet show.
although we planned this trip a month ago and did not mean to flee the country, the sense of neglect was there deep in my heart. our biggest concern upon leaving the country was the continuous nuclear threat from the power plant in fukushima. up to that point, through available sources on the internet, we had studied a lot about nuclear energy and the risk it entails, and came to the conclusion that the situation would not get worse, and would not affect our lives as long as we are not in the direct proximity of the power plant. this made us decide to go ahead and stick with the original plan.
as we drove to the airport, there was a long line of clouds on the horizon, covering the bay area of tokyo. the clouds were eerily dark at the bottom, as if to predict that something ominous was about to happen to us.
at the check-in counter of the airport, there was a long queue of families, mainly indians somehow, waiting patiently for their turn to purchase the tickets to get onto the same plane as ours. there were many small children in strollers, some crying or running around, others sleeping so peacefully being totally unaware of what was going on. we lined up in a short queue with other passengers who already had their tickets & boarding pass ready. we followed the usual protocol to get ready for our departure, giving the airline staff our passports and boarding passes and dropped off our suitcases. we were ready to go.
on the contrary to what we witnessed at the check-in counter, going through the immigrations was extremely easy and fast. there were no queues at the immigrations, which, in overall, took only 5 minutes to get a departure stamp on our passports. walking towards the gate, i noticed that most of the shops were open, running their business as usual, with no lack of products on the shop shelves, the shop staff cheerful as always. there, the crisis was non-existent. there, the world was functioning as it always had.
when arriving the gate, there was a large tv showing some news report, explaining the latest condition of the affected areas in tohoku as well as the fukushima nuclear plant. around us, there were many passengers looking quite anxious to get on to the plane. some of them were on the phone, presumably calling their folks in their own countries. we had a seat in the waiting area, a bit far from the gate, watching tv and observing the long queue to dissipate. it was our turn to go.
all of a sudden, however, something hit my mind, and i started to think that i might be making the biggest mistake of my life, leaving my family behind in the midst of the crisis. all i wanted to do was to stay. i wanted to be close to my family. i did not want to go to hong kong, did not want to be unable to help my family if something happened. i thought of their faces, how i spent my childhood with them, the smiles my mom showed me before leaving our apartment that morning… (my parents were temporarily staying at our apartment to make their commuting to the center easier). i sank deep into the waiting bench, not being able to stand up, not being able to continue the trip.
my husband was looking so concerned with my reaction, being completely at a loss. he came close to me and told me that everything was going to be all right, just like we had discussed so many times before. but my urge not to get onto the plane was so strong that i did not move.
finally my husband suggested me to call my mom. tell her how i feel, tell her that i cannot decide.
so for the first time in my life, i called her from the gate of the airport (i had never called my parents right before a departure), and told her that i was supposed to board the plane but feeling hesitant to do so. i said i was concerned. i said i was sick and worried that i couldn’t bring myself to go. my mom, noticing my agitation instantly, and said “what on earth are you talking about? don’t be silly, you go. you really took after me, didn’t you, always expecting the worst to happen. don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine. go, for your husband, and for you to relax a little. your husband is your family now. if he is going, you are also going. we will be fine here, and you’ll be safe there.”
while on the phone, not being able to control my emotions, i burst into tears in front of everyone. i didn’t care who was looking at me. i just cried, with my shoulders shivering, telling my mom ok i would go but would call her everyday (which, also, i had never done when abroad), to make sure that they’d be ok.
after hanging up, we proceeded to the gate, for my husband’s sake. i tried to smile but again started crying, blew my nose and then tried to smile, and then crying, back to smile, crying, smile, crying, and then a deep inhalation, followed by a slow but firm exhalation. it took me probably half and hour to resume to my normal self, but then the plane started to take off, into the air, and there was no going back.